The Gallatin City-County Health Department is still searching for the money to hold onto its team of mental health professionals.

As Gallatin County commissioners finalized their budget for the next year, they carved out money for the first time for a lead behavioral health specialist housed in the health department.

But, with a 2-1 vote, they also rejected $56,000 for a veteran engagement specialist — leaving the health department looking for ways to find that money.

“We were hopeful to be able to secure ongoing support from the county for this position so it’s disappointing,” Public Health Officer Matt Kelley said. “It’s also important to recognize the county did take a step forward.”

The two positions came out of a 2014 federal grant to improve services for young children and their families. That money stops Sept. 30.

The lead behavioral health specialist has worked out of the health department since 2017 to connect mental health services between places like hospitals, schools and clinics.

The department hired a veteran engagement specialist last April as its first mental health consultant. The specialist spends times with fathers who are veterans and consults department social workers and nurses serving families with young children.

Kelley said the department tweaked its roughly $4.5 million budget — about $1.5 million of which came from the county — to afford its veteran engagement specialist through the year. He hopes to find the cash to hold onto the position into the future.

“Mental health is the most pressing public health issue in our county right now, so we’re going to forge ahead,” Kelley said.

County Commissioner Scott MacFarlane was the sole vote in favor of paying for both jobs.

“We know that these were really the only positions within the county health department that address mental health,” he said. “We know nowadays that’s one of the largest components of public service that we’re lacking, that we need to keep building up in our community.”

The commissioners, including MacFarlane, said the denial came down to money.

The final $200.1 million county budget included an additional $2.8 million in taxes. That’s a 7.8% tax jump.

Commissioner Joe Skinner said they saw value in both health positions and hopes they each stick around.

“The reason we funded the one, we were convinced this would help in a variety of ways and we came down to the point where anything we were approving we were going to be raising taxes to do it,” Skinner said.

He added the positions aren’t the sole budget items geared toward mental health services.

In its last budget, Gallatin County put $220,000 toward the Western Montana Mental Health Center to maintain crisis stabilization services like its work at the Hope House and $80,000 for services in the Detention Center.

“We are probably the state-of-the-art county providing mental health services,” Skinner said. “We’ve gone a long way, we’ve done a lot but I think we can definitely do more.”

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at or at 582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

Katheryn Houghton is the city government and health reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

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